The little things always matter when you are trying to scratch out wins.
Orlando got away with some reckless play in those emotional wins over the weekend against Oklahoma City and Indiana — a late five-second violation and a turnover on the final possession, for instance. But that will only get you so far. Eventually that luck turns back. And it can do so frustratingly, especially after the ecstacy of those two wins.
The Magic had climbed all the way back from a seemingly insurmountable 13-point deficit against the Grizzlies and were trading the lead in the final two minutes. Then that little late-game mistake popped its head and it very much cost Orlando a chance to win again.
With the Magic trailing by one point, Jameer Nelson missed a long 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. The rebound came out long and Glen Davis dove to try to get it. Courtney Lee had him beat and a clear path to the other basket. Arron Afflalo caught up to him and fouled him going for the ball from the side. The officials ruled it a clear path foul and the replay confirmed it.
Lee would hit both free throws and the Grizzlies would find Zach Randolph for a running hook shot, delivering the Grizzlies a four-point play that sealed an 86-81 win at Amway Center on Wednesday, snapping the Magic’s five-game home winning streak.
“I don’t know,” Arron Afflalo said about the clear path foul called against him. “It was just part of the game. Probably there are some other things we need to do throughout the game that no one call can determine the outcome of the game. Just a tough situation.”
It certainly was not just that one call, although it is easy to point to as a critical blow to the Magic’s chances. The Grizzlies loaded up on Zach Randolph’s back and let him carry them to the finish line. He ended up with 20 points and five rebounds on the night.
It was a very ugly game played at the Grizzlies’ slow-it-down pace. The Magic struggled to find their footing the entire way. A 27-point third quarter seemed to be the Magic figuring some things out. They pushed the pace more and used their speed to erase the deficit.
Orlando’s offense finally found its traction thanks to that increase in pace as the stagnant ball movement Memphis usually forces stopped somewhat with the team getting some things up the court and toward the basket.
It did not translate to fast break points, but it did translate into better looks. At least, for that brief moment.
“We weren’t pleased with the number of assists that we had at halftime,” Jacque Vaughn said. “So that is one gauge right there. I think we changed that whether it was the first play in the third quarte,r the movement that we had on that play, how many people touched the basketball. So when you play a grind-it-out, methodical team like Memphis, I think it’s the touches that you have and whether the ball changes sides of the floor, I think that’s how you can judge how our guys played tonight a little bit.”
By that gauge, Orlando had 18 assists on 34 field goals makes and just seven at halftime. The Magic shot 41.0 percent for the game and 4 for 13 from beyond the arc for the game. Orlando was having a tough time cracking Memphis’ defense as most teams do.
But Orlando did a good job on the defensive end trying to keep things close. The Grizzlies never got too far away, although it seemed further away with the way they play defense. Orlando held an advantage on the boards and got somewhat fortunate that Marc Gasol left the game with an injury. That helped keep Memphis small and allowed the team to be a little more aggressive defensively and a little more attack-focused offensively.
Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic led the way with 13 points each with Vucevic contributing 10 rebounds too. Glen Davis scored 12 and Arron Afflalo overcame Tayshaun Prince’s defense and a slow start to record 10 points, all in the second half. Kyle O’Quinn anchored a strong defensive effort in the second quarter with three blocks.
In the end, it came down to execution. The Magic, for all their ability to fight and the mojo they had developed, did not do that toward the end of the game. The Grizzlies clamped down, rode their star for dependable buckets and finally grounded the Magic out.
“I felt like we should have tried to play a little faster,” Nikola Vucevic said. “We kind of played at their pace. That’s what they want us to do. They kept us in the half court and it is hard to play against them like that. They are a very good defensive team, they execute on both ends of the floor and we should have, even when they were scoring, tried to run and get some easy buckets.”
It certainly was not all bad for the Magic. Nor was it particularly discouraging. But a lot of the mojo certainly stopped as the team heads into the All-Star Break.